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Listen to the Future

As the woodsman raised his ax, he heard a voice. 

“Hey! What are you doing?” it cried. 

He stepped back as he realized the voice was coming from the tree he was about to cut down. 

“Woah, what are you doing? I sell wood, this is my job,” he replied. 

A bird flew and landed on a nearby tree stump. It turned to the woodsman and said wisely, “don’t you see there are no more trees? I have nowhere left to sleep!”

A lizard scuttled in too, “don’t you see that if there are no trees there is also no water?” it asked sadly, “and if there is no water, there is no life.” 

A little worm appeared by the woodsman’s shoes to chime in, “if I don’t nourish the earth, the seeds cannot grow.” It turned to the fungi growing around the tree stump the bird was sitting on. 

They smiled at the woodsman proudly, “here we work as a team. With our help, the trees grow better.”

The woodsman looked at all the creatures before him and scratched his head. “So what am I supposed to do?” he asked, “I need to eat.”

The tree waved its lower branches at him. “Look!” it cried, “take these dry branches, I don’t need them anymore!” It looked pleadingly at the woodsman, “but please don’t cut me down. I still have things to do here!”

The woodsman looked again at all of the creatures and suddenly understood. He smiled and said, “well then, I will take these branches now, and when you are older and have finished what you need to do, I will cut you down then instead.”

The tree smiled back. “That’s ok, but then plant me more tree friends. I very much need them!” 

The creatures dispersed. The woodsman took the dead branches from the tree and walked away. He felt much better about his role and was very glad that he had heard the message of the forest.

The story is a written version of the short video above, “El Mensaje Del Bosque” or “The Message of The Forest” created by kids local to the Monarch Butterfly Reserve in Mexico. This video-creating project came about when our partners Nature Forward engaged local children in the area’s reforestation project. It is a great example of what can come from listening to children on the topic of nature restoration. When they discussed sustainability, they quickly found that the kids had much more to say about it than they expected. The children not only needed to be taught, but they also needed to be heard! They understood the issues and with some help in vocalizing what they thought, they articulated it perfectly. Nature Forward ensured they could visualize their story of local environmental issues through an animated film, in which we see the innocence but also the complete and utter logic presented. The message being, we can’t keep taking from the forest if we don’t give back.

This video really underlines the importance of including future generations in the environmental dialogue. It shows that children are already incredibly aware of the importance of nature, and have a lot to say about it. There is often a lot of talk about children and teenagers, and how the actions of previous generations will have a direct impact on them. “Children are the least responsible for climate change, yet they will bear the greatest burden of its impact” (UNICEF). Everyone who is engaged with the global climate agenda will have Greta Thunberg’s words “how dare you” echoing in their ears, as she addressed the UN climate action summit in New York at the age of only 16. Her message was important, the action we as a global society take will define the future. She, the video, and many other actions of the younger generation show us that there is so much to be learned from what a child observes about nature and the current state of our planet. Therefore, including them and inspiring engagement with and a love of nature is vital. It is something that must also be thought about during the reforestation process. When we plant a tree, we are looking at forty years before that tree is fully grown. We are quite literally planting trees for the adults of tomorrow, the kids of today. We need to encourage interest and involvement by involving children in the process and letting them see why forests are so important. If we act now and involve future generations in creating a sustainable mindset as the norm, we can succeed. 

UNICEF states that children’s participation in issues that affect them is a right, according to Article 12, “Convention on the Rights of the Child.” As such, they are working with young people to ensure that their voices on climate change are heard and listened to. They are actively encouraging children to be a part of major UN summits and promoting sustainable lifestyles and mindsets to their communities. When we listen to children, we learn much more than we could ever imagine. We can trust in them to ask the right questions, appreciate nature, and plant more trees. Treating nature badly is a learned bad habit, and bad habits can be changed. By encouraging children to connect and appreciate nature, and including them in sustainability dialogue, we already take a step towards unlearning that, and we get to listen to some pretty beautiful stories along the way!